Expect the Unexpected

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Being suspicious of movie trailers isn’t a new phenomenon, as some would have you believe. The past few years have seen a marked increase in “trailer cut” takes of scenes and dialogue that don’t end up in the final film — not to mention a propensity for showing, essentially, a two minute version of the two hour movie on sale — but the reliability of a trailer being trustworthy has never been anything but in question.

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Unlike the finished product, they’re a marketing tool. They’re a very exciting marketing tool that takes some serious skill to get right, but they’re still a marketing tool.

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They want to get your butt in the seat for that film, so they sell an experience before the film you’ve already been convinced to put your butt in place for – something relatable in terms of other movies, previous experiences; something identifiable in terms of genre, shared experiences; something that evokes a reaction, a feeling, adrenaline, thought, laughter…a personal experience.

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They’re manipulative. They bend and twist us into the shapes the studio want us to contort into so that we’re receptive to that product.

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A movie’s marketing is a vital component in getting it seen by the right audience to make it successful; a trailer is a massive cog in that particular machine. When a trailer is cut well, it evokes the right message for the right audience; when it’s done poorly or — perhaps worse — when it’s done dishonestly, it mis-sells the atmosphere, the mood, the laughs, the tears, the drama, the spectacle, the tone, the experience…the movie.

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In the case of some big cache movies, it’s unlikely to make a vast difference to the overall audience pull, as such films are largely preaching to the choir. The trailer for The Last Jedi is only going to further stoke even a casual Star Wars aficionado; by the same token, it’s not going to change any minds from any fence-sitters or non-believers.

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Suicide Squad arguably mis-sold its product in all but one of its trailers. Its initial teaser was very much in keeping with its grimy colours and gallows humour tone, but its subsequent trailers were frenetic, neon, artfully choreographed tongue-in-cheek meta nods to the R-rated action comedy of mature comic book forerunner Deadpool…which was not what the end product turned out to be, no matter the coats of neon paint they applied either end. That obviously doesn’t go down well with an audience who feel like they’ve been sold a speedboat and come out with a timeshare; it’s unlikely to harm the box office of a Suicide Squad, however – the butts have already guaranteed their place.

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I saw Table 19 a couple of weeks ago. The only reason I even knew it existed was because, when I was looking at putting The Onslaught back together again earlier in the year, I trawled through weeks of upcoming new releases that were likely to go wide.

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It was noted down as a possible, because 1) it had Anna Kendrick, who is always superb mileage, but 2) it didn’t seem to be opening wide. Basically, unless one of the two massive Cineworld on either side of me show it, I’ve not got a lot of chance of seeing it, so I was trying to pick out wide or saturation releases. But, as it turned out, Table 19 did go wide  to Cineworld and I’d watched the trailer so I knew it was still a possible.

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Not a definite. The trailer is not the best. My friend who went with me remarked that she had been expecting a Bridesmaids-esque movie comedy and I think that is largely what the trailer sets you up for – it has some real comic moments, much like the Bridesmaids trailer, but it somehow lacks any of the punch that trailer had.

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The trailer does a pretty shoddy job of selling it as such, because it isn’t the product it’s being pushed as on the screen. It is a comedy, yes; it is quirky, yes; but it’s also surprisingly dramatic, personal and uplifting…in a largely tragic, non-traditional sense.

None of that makes its way into the trailer because it is not only a hard sell, mid-comic moment but, essentially, it’s the tonal and narrative twist that turns the film right round about halfway through. It’s hard to advertise that turn without negating the effect of it.

Subsequently, the trailer unwisely concentrates on the comedic aspect of it — stylised as the familiar quirky indie comedy trailer we all instantly recognise — and has a strong, amusing first minute…ending on a somewhat comedically damp moment, following a second minute that hasn’t lived up, in context, to the first because it isn’t, really, funny.

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Well we all know how I feel about reviews and, personally, I think they must’ve watched a different movie because I loved Table 19. There was something deeply genuine about it and the people it told stories about; it aped the structure of The Breakfast Club — a bit of a trend and why the hell not, you could do a lot worse in terms of aping, let me tell you now — but went somewhere very different with it, pulling performances and traits I didn’t expect out of actors I didn’t expect them from (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow, in particular, are standout).

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It’s an unusual approach to the format – beginning as one thing and unexpectedly becoming something else when you don’t expect it. That was the thing that most impressed me — I don’t know, maybe critics don’t like having the rug pulled out from under them when they’ve just settled down into their preconceptions but suddenly find them littering the carpet — and maybe it says more about me personally than anything else that the film and the characters chimed so resonantly with me.

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It wasn’t the film they’d been sold or you’d been sold. That was the thing that occurred to me in the time since I’ve watched it. I’ve looked up its box office and got used to reading trash about its quality, but the thing I hadn’t seen mentioned was that the trailer did the movie no favours…and I’ve seen several like that this year.

Table 19‘s fate made that click somewhere in my brain. I’m not saying that it would have actually saved its box office or changed its reception if the film had a different, more appropriate trailer, but it certainly would have changed the opportunity for the outcome, I think. It was a niche production without a built-in audience, but happened to be one with elements that always appeal to me that I could pick out of the somewhat slow and incongruous trailer…so to appeal beyond the oddballs, it was one that needed a great, authentic trailer to sell its wares to the public at large. Negative reviews will have their effect on those that they’re going to influence anyway, but for everyone else they need to see something that’s going to make them place their butt, as I said.

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